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How cycling led me to firefighting

Every cyclist has a story, presented by Smith

Michael Chang

When Michael Chang was in high school, he hung out at his local bike shop so much that the owner eventually offered him a job. Chang was really into mountain bikes, but he still had a lot to learn. He figured he’d start by doing menial jobs around the shop Thornhill, Ont., just north of Toronto. On his first day, however, he was given a bike to build up. From there, he ended up building more than just bikes.

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Chang worked at the shop for about 10 years. In that time he was a mechanic, a service manager and a buyer. He noticed that many of the customers who showed up on weekdays seemed to have one of three jobs: police officer, paramedic or firefighter. He didn’t think much of it at first. They were simply folks with shifts that allowed them to come by midweek. Later, Chang ended up developing a friendship with one of his customers who was a firefighter. One day, that friend told Chang that a fire service in the area was hiring and that he should apply. “I had never really thought of it. It wasn’t on my radar,” Chang says. “But I looked into it.”

Michael Chang
Out for a cruise in Toronto.

Although Chang didn’t make it past the first round of the hiring process—he wasn’t fully prepared—he stuck with it. He continued to work at the bike shop while taking the necessary courses at a community college. After about two and a half years, he was in the firefighting academy on his way to becoming a firefighter. “It was all because of that one firefighter, who was a customer and ended up becoming a great friend.” Even though Chang’s friend now lives in Red Deer, Alta., where he continues to mountain bike, the two are still in touch.

Michael Chang
Michael Chang reaches for his Smith Express helmet.

Chang also continues to ride. Work and family life keep him pretty busy, so his rides aren’t as big or as frequent as they used to be. There hasn’t been a trip to Whistler with the guys recently. Chang, however, has discovered the joys of night riding in Toronto. “It’s opened up so much, especially in the winter time. The kids are asleep and I’m out the door. I love it because there’s nobody out there. It’s way more peaceful. Kind of eerie and creepy sometimes, too,” he says with a laugh. He likes to load his mountain bike, decked out with lights, on his vehicle and head from the west end of Toronto east to the trails of the Don Valley. In the winter, he’ll take his fat bike, which was an engagement gift from his wife. In warmer months, Chang puts his three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son in a bike trailer and heads out to a playground or a splash pad. On those family rides, a helmet such as the Smith Express ($130 [MIPS], $80 [non-MIPS], smithoptics.com), is a good match. The model with the MIPS protection system helps to manage rotational forces in a crash. The Express has a removable visor that can shield your eyes and an integrated rear light.

Michael Chang
The Smith Express helmet has an integrated rear light with multiple settings.

Currently, Chang has four bikes. There used to be more, stashed at his brother’s house and a couple at his parents’ place. And in what condition are the current bikes of the former mechanic? “Mechanically, they are perfect. In terms of esthetics, they are always dirty. I don’t clean my bikes. I just can’t be bothered. I think that’s because I was cleaning others’ bikes for 10 years,” he says. Chang still tinkers, though, including building his own wheels.

Michael Chang
Out with the bike when the city is quiet.

Bikes can sometimes feature in Chang’s current job. No, he hasn’t rescued a bike from a burning building. (“But I would!” he adds.) Often when he’s out in the community and notices that a person rides, it’s easy to start up a conversation.

To think it all started with a chat in a bike shop. “In the cycling industry, the network that we have is astonishing,” Chang says. “It’s amazing who you get to meet. With all those connections, everyone has that same passion for cycling, so you can maintain those connections and friendships forever. That’s what I love about the world of cycling.”

Michael Chang
Michael Chang on the trail.
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